Review: Sex Crimes of the 50s


Sex Crimes of the 50s takes an in depth look at the way sex crimes were treated in the 50s. This examination centres on New South Wales, the largest region in the country at the time, and focuses on 585 individual cases.

Lisa Featherstone and Amanda Kaladelfos have used information from court transcripts to put together this insightful and deeply disturbing look at the way sex crimes were tackled by the court system in the 50s providing a reflection on Australian culture at this time.

This book was a difficult read – I can only imagine it would have been even more infuriating to write. The book focuses on the different natures of sex crimes and the law at the time. Rape, for example, was defined particularly as penile penetration of the vagina. This brings us to two conclusions: under NSW law at the time:

  • if something else is used, then the act that occurs has not been rape, and
  • rape cannot happen to a man.

We see a lot of victim blaming for sex crimes today, but some of the court evidence presented is truly disturbing. Featherstone and Kaladelfos provide the statistics that most guilty verdicts were found again perpetrators who had attacked underage women or boys. Only a small percentage of guilty verdicts were found against men who had attacked adult women.  Fathers who abused their families were allowed to get away with their crimes based on the fact that they were good workers and attended church Рespecially if their wives had been absent or had been withholding sex.

There is a look at medical evidence and how completely useless it was in the courtroom, due to both the limited nature of the conclusion doctors could draw, and to the gender biased natures of the doctors themselves. One piece of “medical evidence” relied on was that if the women was healthy, the musculature of her vagina would prevent rape from occurring.

There is also a look at the farcical way that homosexuality was treated at this time, with the police being heavily criticised by judges for their use of entrapment techniques, and little more evidence than the officer’s testimony.

Sex Crimes in the 50s is an eye opening read, a must for anyone with an interest in Australian criminal law.

5 out of 5 horrifying testimonies.